Nov. 26, 2008
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Whether you are listening on a car radio on Interstate 65 South in Nashville, listening on a satellite radio in the heart of New York City or on a computer in Sydney, Australia, no one makes Vanderbilt fans feel closer to West End Avenue quite like Joe Fisher does.
Many coaches and players have come and gone in the past 10 years, but one thing that hasn't changed at Vanderbilt has been the man who has been the eyes and ears for Commodore fans since August 1998.
Players and coaches ultimately determine the result of a game, but few and usually just the best of the best ever have the long lasting-connection with fans quite the way a team's broadcaster does. Whether it was Harry Caray taking you through endless summer nights with the Cubs or Chick Hearn describing a Lakers victory on a winter night, the voices of a team's broadcaster are forever ingrained in a fan's head.
Fisher is no different. A Nashville native who graduated from Antioch High School, Fisher spent many evenings listening to Vanderbilt's Paul Eells and Tennessee's John Ward call games long into the night.
Although sports always had been a passion of his, it wasn't until the eighth grade that Fisher had any interest in getting behind the microphone.
"When I was in eighth grade I had an inkling about what I wanted to do," Fisher said. "I was PA announcing the junior high football game one day and it was one of those plays where they had three or four penalties in a row and instead of playing it totally straight over the PA I said, `third and forever,' and I got a big laugh from the crowd. I think that is when I realized I'd like to do something like that where people would listen to what you had to say."
With his interest piqued, Fisher set out to find out more about sportscasting by calling Nashville's WSMV-TV Channel 4.
"I called and got put in contact with (sports anchor) Rudy Kalis and arranged to go meet with him because I wanted to find out what I have to do to get in this business," Fisher said. "I was supposed to meet with him after the six o'clock show and was going to stay for 30 minutes, but I ended up staying until 11 o'clock. I stayed the whole time and he or whoever was impressed enough that I was serious about it that they called me and said they had a spot on Saturday afternoon."
Since it was before the days of the Internet and the ticker at the bottom of your television screen, Fisher's primary job was answering the phone and providing score updates to fans for $1.60 per hour.
"He didn't make hardly a buck when he came here in high school and told me he was interested in sports," said Kalis, who now is the sports director at Channel 4. "He was smart from the beginning. He was absolutely faithful. He was always there.
"It was just that he was so dedicated and so smart. He had a photographic memory. He was such a help for me in that regard."
As Fisher continued to learn more about the ins and outs of the industry from shooting and cutting film to writing scripts, his interest and commitment to the profession grew.
After graduating from high school, Fisher went on to attend Middle Tennessee State, where he made the drive from Murfreesboro, Tenn., to Nashville every weekend so he could work Friday night through Sunday at Channel 4. In addition to his work at Channel 4, Fisher stayed involved in radio by calling Blue Raider games for the campus radio station.
Eventually, the long hours paid off for Fisher when he caught what would be his first of two big breaks, earning his first full-time job as sports director at 650 WSM Radio.
Fisher's second big break came not long after when Channel 4 hired him as their weekend sports anchor.
"He knew everything," Kalis said. "He could do great interviews. He learned to edit. He could do everything, and he remembered everything. It was almost like a brotherhood and that is the dearest thing to me. I think Joe is almost like a brother to me."
Eventually Fisher left Channel 4 for Nashville's WKRN-TV Channel 2 for three years before leaving the industry to work for a public relations firm in Nashville called Dye Van Mol and Lawrence.
While at DV&L, Vanderbilt contacted Fisher to broadcast women's basketball games, which he did for 2½ years before officially being offered the job as director of broadcasting in 1998.
"I was always interested in play-by-play," Fisher said. "I thought that was the greatest thing, but that is just so hard to get into. It was something I always wanted to do. When you start doing television, those opportunities become fewer to do because you are kind of pigeonholed into what you do.
"For me it was right place right time and the stars aligned to where they needed to. To be able to do it at Vanderbilt in my hometown was just unbelievable."
Since coming on board, Fisher has seen many highs and lows from his first football game, where Vanderbilt got shutout 42-0 at Mississippi State, to Worth Scott's dramatic walk-off home run against Tennessee, which sent Vanderbilt to the SEC Tournament in 2003.
Lately, the highlights have outweighed the lowlights, which is something Fisher knows not to take for granted.
"I think about where we were to where we are, and it's extremely gratifying," Fisher said. "I actually am probably one of the more fortunate Vanderbilt broadcasters to be able to be here at this time. All the sports are competitive. I don't think anybody else maybe had that luxury, so I appreciate that."
Just as the teams have continued to improve since Fisher arrived, so has he.
"I listen each year in how he has gotten better and better in his broadcasting," Kalis said. "He was always meticulous about his work, there's no question about that, but I think maturity and age adds something to it. There is kind of a depth to what he says now that is so good. I'm so impressed that he's been the `Voice of the Commodores' for as long as he's been now."
Although there aren't many things you can count on these days, one thing you can be assured of is that no matter how many hundreds of miles you may be from where the Commodores are playing a game, Joe Fisher will be sitting courtside or in the press box delivering Vanderbilt's every move to you over the airwaves.
"I think what's been interesting to me has been to realize in recent years just how many people there are that live and hang on every word sometimes," Fisher said. "Not only by the radio, but by satellite radio and the Internet all over the world. That kind of hits you every once in a while.
"When you get an e-mail from someone in India that's stayed up until three or four in the morning to listen to the game, there is a little bit more of an added responsibility. It's a good reminder that a lot of people are counting on you."